"Elegy for Miss Calico"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 29 2009 7:10 AM

"Elegy for Miss Calico"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Frank Gallimore read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
.

O the year before they hauled the deaf woman 
from the trash. O the fishnets that crisscrossed
her legs, the florets in her straightened hair.
Asking how to pronounce Baby and How much,
she felt my throat for the trick of it. In a window
she made a primping Blanche DuBois over Felony Flats.
And Mondays with her stolen shopping cart she'd go
dumpster-jumping the lot between the fairgrounds
and the School for the Deaf. Who found the cart
up by the gabled houses and their turn-of-the-century
dream of baked Alaska, Amaryllis belladonna
so many grandmas asleep in a goldenrod grave?

When they fished her out, the eastbound roared
through necklaces of skyline, or so I remember,
or so I say. By rust-ravaged fronts, I sensed 
a hustler's craft, device of handshake and for-the-best,
while there lay syringes by which to tune his happiness.
I used to watch his girls cluster like flowers on a mock-
terrazzo ledge, pressed on a barred patio. I'd watch her coo,
make mouths of inscrutable lingo for the long lash of his body.
And O the too-short calico dress, hand-me-down,
arranging itself on the breeze of his battered porch.

How do you say my name? she'd ask at dusk,
smooth fingers again on my throat to feel the syllables rise.
By morning her smelllike a wrung rag's. Whore, I'd say, 
the word puckering as she tossed her ratty head back
and laughed. We laughed. I wiped my cheek
with the back of my hand, the sign for her like rubbing a scar.

.

Frank Gallimore lives in Seattle, where he works as a sign-language interpreter. He is a 2007 graduate of the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University.

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